Changing Explanations in Mind-Body Medicine
Colleges and Universities
- History of Medicine
- Intellectual and Cultural History
- History of Philosophy
- Medicine in Literature
The Changing Explanations in Mind-Body Medicine class resource, developed by Theodore M. Brown, PhD, provides teachers and students with the opportunity to discuss the implications of the exhibition “And there’s the humor of it” Shakespeare and the four humors for our understanding of how practicing physicians and medical scientists have, over a considerable period of time, typically explained disease and the factors which cause it. Looking selectively at Western medicine over its long history and in the most basic terms, it focuses on the recurrent ways in which biological (body-based) and psychological (mind- or emotion-based) explanations have been used to account for diseases of both the body and mind, and it challenges the common assumption that biological explanations are always better.
The class resource focuses on the following three periods with six lessons:
Greek antiquity through the Medieval period (ca. 450 BCE to ca. 1450) provides information about the medical knowledge and key ideas that Shakespeare and his contemporaries inherited from classical and medieval authorities in lessons 1 and 2.
The Early Modern period (ca. 1450 to ca. 1650) explores the ideas about mind and body among medical authorities just prior to Shakespeare and during his time in lessons 3 and 4.
The Modern Era (ca. 1650 to the present) focuses on Rene Descartes’s ideas on mind-body dualism and broad themes in the development of modern medicine in lessons 5 and 6.
Each lesson includes an introduction, suggested primary and secondary source readings, and a set of discussion questions.
After completing this class resource, students are able to:
- Understand how early the mind-body theme appeared in Western thought and how persistently it has continued in medicine.
- Appreciate that emphasis on the mind- or emotion-based, that is, psychological dimensions of medicine has waxed and waned over time but has never fully vanished.
- Learn about circumstances in medical history that help determine whether the psychological aspects are either central or marginal to medical thought and practice at any given time.
- Describe how the persistent quest for scientific legitimacy, the jumping on intellectual bandwagons, and the recurrent tensions between theoretical understanding and practical clinical experience have all affected awareness of mind-body relationships in medicine.
Identify the ways in which the long-standing issues about mind-body interactions remain despite the advances of modern science.